Leadership Structure of the Massachusetts Government
Standard 6.8: Leadership Structure of the Massachusetts Government
Explain the leadership structure of the government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the function of each branch. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T6.8]
Massachusetts is an Algonquin Indian word which roughly translates to “large hill place” or “at the great hill.” This refers to the Great Blue Hill in Milton, Massachusetts - an ancient volcano last active over 400 million years ago (History of Massachusetts Blog, December 2, 2015). The names of the state’s 14 counties were borrowed from places in England (Where Did Massachusetts Counties Get Their Names? from MassLive).
The state’s population in July 2019 was estimated at 6.8 million people, 16.5% over age 65 (slightly more than the national average) and 19.8% younger than 18 (somewhat less than the national average). About 16.5% of the state’s residents are foreign-born (higher than the national average). Median household income was $77,378 compared with $60,293 nationwide; 10% of the population were living in poverty, less than the national average of 11.8%. 90.1% of Massachusetts households have a computer; 84.7% have broadband subscriptions (Anderson, 2020).
The state government's legislative, executive, and judicial structure is similar to the three branches of the nation's federal government. Importantly, Massachusetts has had many history-making political milestones which have made its government more representative of all genders and races. Going forward, with millions of people living in a geographically small area, that state's government faces enormous challenges. One of those challenges - how can state government promote greater equity in jobs and careers for women and men - is at the center of how democracy in the 21st century.
Modules for this Standard Include:
1. INVESTIGATE: The Structure of Massachusetts Government
Massachusetts is one of four states that are legally called a “commonwealth” - Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania are the others. There is no real difference between a commonwealth and a state. All have a structure similar to the federal government with three co-equal branches - executive, legislative and judicial - that check and balance each other.
The executive branch is made up of the Governor, the governor's cabinet, the state treasurer, the state auditor, the attorney general, the state comptroller, and the state secretary.
Governor: The governor is the chief executive officer, similar to the president in the federal government. The governor is elected in a state election and serves a four-year term. The current governor of Massachusetts is Charlie Baker (2020).
The Governor's Cabinet: The governor's cabinet is similar to the president's cabinet. The governor's cabinet is made up of Executive Office for Administration and Finance, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, the Executive Office of Education and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
The Attorney General: The attorney general represents all legal proceedings in both state and federal courts. The attorney general also brings actions to enforce environmental and consumer protection statutes.
The legislative branch is made up of the State Senate and House of Representatives:
- State Senate: The state Senate is made up of 40 members. State senators are elected for two-year terms.
- House of Representatives: the House is composed of 160 members. Representatives also serve two-year terms.
The judicial branch is made up of the Supreme Judicial Court, the Appeals Court, and the Trial Court. The Appeals Court and the Trial Court are appointed by the Governor.
Suggested Learning Activity
- Role-Play & Design
- It's voting season and 35 spots are available in the state government this year.
- Select a position from the list above (e.g., Governer, Attorney General, Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, senator, house of representative member, Chief Justice of the Trial Court).
- Create a campaign video (see Making a political campaign video).
- Host a class film screening of the campaign videos and an official class election.
Online Resources for the Structure of Massachusetts Government
- Executive Branch, Mass.gov
- Legislative Branch, Mass.gov
- Look up your state legislators
- Judicial Branch, Mass.gov
- Massachusetts Supreme Court rulings
2. UNCOVER: Milestones in Massachusetts History and Politics
Massachusetts has had many historical firsts, including:
- First public park (Boston Common, 1634)
- First public secondary school (Boston Latin Grammar School, 1635)
- First university (Harvard)
- First public library
- First state constitution
- First church built by free Blacks (African Meeting House)
- First basketball game (Springfield)
- First American subway system (Boston).
The structure of Massachusetts government, while similar to that of the federal government, also provides important firsts and key developments (see Table 6.8).
First African American Men Elected to the Massachusetts Legislature
Edward Garrison Walker and Charles Lewis Mitchell (1866)
First African American Woman Elected to the Massachusetts House
Doris Bunte (1973)
First African American Man Elected to the Massachusetts Senate
Bill Owens (1975)
First Hispanic Man Elected the Massachusetts Legislature
Nelson Merced (1988)
First Hispanic Woman Elected the Massachusetts Legislature
Cheryl Coakley-Rivera (1999)
First LGBT Candidate Elected the Massachusetts Legislature
Elaine Noble (1975)
Suggested Learning Activities
- Expand upon Table 6.8 by adding a list of other firsts for Massachusetts government and politics.
- Here are more examples:
- First African American Elected to the United States Senate: Edward Brooke (1966)
- First African American Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court: Roderick L. Ireland (2010)
- First African American Woman Elected to the United States House of Representatives: Ayanna Pressley (2018)
- Create a class eBook (on Book Creator or Google Docs) about milestones in your state's history and politics.
- Each student can select a milestone and create a multimodal, interactive (e.g., hyperlinks, embedded media) page or chapter to add to the collaborative class book.
3. ENGAGE: What Else Besides Equal Pay Laws is Needed to Eliminate Gender Gaps in Wages and Jobs?
In 1945, Massachusetts became the first state to pass an Equal Pay Law mandating that women be paid the same as men when doing the same job. That law was updated in 2018 with the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act. Today, most states have laws against wage discrimination based on gender—only Alabama and Mississippi do not have equal pay laws.
Still a gender pay gap exists across most occupations and industries in this country. Women make less money than men, often much less—on average 82 cents for every dollar made by men (The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap).
Equal Pay Day is the day in a year that women must work until they earn what men earned the previous year. Equal Pay Day for all women in 2019 was June 10; for Black women it was August 22.
Suggested Learning Activity
- Design a Public Policy Initiative
- What else must be done besides equal pay laws to eliminate gender gaps in wages and jobs?
- Develop a short video or podcast explaining your proposal for action
Online Resources for Equal Pay Laws
- Equal Pay Laws by State, AAUW
- Paycheck Fairness Act of 2019, passed by the House of Representatives. It is opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Standard 6.8 Conclusion
Massachusetts has a system of government like the other states in the United States. INVESTIGATE outlined the structure of the state’s legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. UNCOVER presented milestones in Massachusetts government, many of which opened the way for wider transformations in politics throughout the nation. ENGAGE asked what steps state government can and should take to eliminate gender gaps in wages and jobs.
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